A bright pink t-shaped lump of styrofoam has got stuck. It stutters uselessly, shunting back and forth against the feet of a desk. It’ll need a helping hand to get on its way again. “Some of them are more intelligent than others,” the woman occupying that desk informs me with a sigh as she picks up the plucky wedge and turns it around, setting it merrily scuttling forth across the floor once again.
Untitled (2014), a work by Barcelona-born artist Eva Fàbregas, sees a small hive of mysteriously animated chunks of packing material loosed upon the floor of the Kunstraum in Hoxton. Concealed within each brightly coloured hulk are miniature sensors and ambulating motors, giving each one an uncanny sense of robotic autonomy.
For all their perky, gaily-coloured cuteness, there is something faintly terrifying about Fabregas’s styrobots. We have spent so long disregarding this stuff, packing foam. It’s everywhere. What if it were to rise up and take over, like kipple? “No one can win against kipple,” as Philip K. Dick warned in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
“Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday’s homeopape. When nobody’s around kipple reproduces itself. … Eventually everything within the building would merge, would be faceless and identical, mere pudding-like kipple piled to the ceiling of each apartment. And, after that, the uncared-for building itself would settle into shapelessness, buried under the ubiquity of dust.”
– Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
Of course, this stuff, this styrofoam, this kipple, already is moving, and was moving, long before Eva Fàbregas came along. Hardly anything on earth is more mobile. It is the hidden remainder of modern capitalism. Hidden, that is, in plain sight; rendered oblique by sheer ubiquity.
Coupled here with works by British artist Andrew Lacon – which see a photocopy of a photocopy of a photograph of the folds of the skirts of Saint Theresa (from Bernini’s famous Ecstasy of…) re-coloured by the red, blue, and green gels placed over the gallery skylights, their uncertain hues shifting with the time of day – Fàbregas’s autonomous packing bots raise a question of framing, of the surround that shapes the content we perceive and consume.
People sometimes moan about ‘style over content’, but what is content without form? It’s kipple, that’s what. Just kipple.